This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/3305
December 31, 2007
|Islamist Payola in the City of Brotherly Love|
The history of the United States runs through Philadelphia. It is there that the American Revolution was born. However, a new revolution threatens to take hold of Philly, a Muslim one. It is led by one of Philadelphia's favorite sons, singer/songwriter/producer Kenny Gamble (a.k.a. Luqman Abdul Haqq), who has a master plan to renovate a once great part of the city using taxpayers' money. While on face value his intentions appear to be worthy, Gamble's revitalization plan for Philadelphia has sinister implications, leading to the question: Will Philadelphia remain "the City of Brotherly Love" or will it become a city of Muslim Brotherly hate?
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or Ikhwan in America exists, in large part, within two immigrant populations. One is the Arab Muslim community, falling under the aegis of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and to a smaller extent the Muslim American Society (MAS). The other is the South Asian Muslim community, positioned under the umbrella of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), a subsidiary of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) in Pakistan. These groups form the core of MB America.
Still, there is a third U.S. Muslim population of much less acclaim/notoriety. It is the African American Muslim community, and it consists mainly of converts who fall within a number of categories, many of which overlap, including black power advocates, racial separatists, ex-felons, anti-Semites and hate America firsters. There are two organizations that encompass all of the above: the Nation of Islam (NOI), a black supremacist group that is built upon the hatred of whites and Jews, and the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA), the African American version of ISNA and ICNA.
MANA was founded in May of 2000, in response to the arrest of cop killer H. Rap Brown, a.k.a. Jamil Al-Amin. According to the group, it was officially formed on January 27, 2001. Today, MANA coordinates a vast network of mosques and Islamic organizations.
While MANA is almost entirely an African-American-based entity, the group has aligned itself most closely with Arab and South Asian "Brotherhood" organizations. In fact, MANA's Amir (President), Siraj Wahhaj, is the former Vice President of ISNA U.S., and MANA's General Secretary, Ihsan Bagby, is a national board member of both ISNA and the Hamas-related Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
One of the functions of MANA is to hold yearly conferences. The group's most recent event took place this past November in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, entitled The State of the Black American Muslim Community.' At the affair, certain outside organizations, such as CAIR, were permitted to set up shop to showcase their materials. One of the groups, the Philadelphia-based International Islamic Information Network (IIIN), propagates lectures given by Saleh as-Suhaimi, who stated during one of his speeches that a wife needs to practice "obedience" to her husband and cannot go "outside the house without his permission," and if "it comes to a point where he has to hit her, that it does not break the skin or does not break a bone or does not leave a mark or a bruise..."
Most of those attending the conference were people unknown to the non-Muslim world. But one in particular has been in the public eye for decades.
Kenneth Gamble is an icon within the music business, in part responsible for over 170 platinum and gold albums and songs, including "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "Love Train," and "Me and Mrs. Jones." As stated by John A. Jackson, in his A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, by the end of 1974, Gamble along with his partners Leon Huff and Thom Bell "were the top three soul producers in the pop music industry."
According to Jackson, though, things started to unravel for Gamble, when, in 1975, the record company he helped create, Philadelphia International, became embroiled in a payola scandal. That, the demanding workload placed upon him, his heavily mortgaged business headquarters, and his failing marriage, all led up to a nervous breakdown. It was around this time that Gamble began to turn to Islam.
The first group that had an impact on his newfound religion was the Nation of Islam, a black supremacist movement that was founded in the 30s. About NOI, Gamble stated during an interview on Saudi TV Channel 2, "[T]he Nation of Islam... was a tremendous brotherhood that promoted self-help and do for self.' And being a conscious person, I looked at our communities and I looked at us as a people, and I thought that that was something that the African American community really needed to think about and to get involved in..." [Currently, Gamble is involved in the NOI-associated "10,000 Men."]
But Gamble now, Luqman Abdul Haqq was not to reach the true Brotherhood, until April 21, 2001, when he was chosen to be on the first Executive Committee (Diwan) of MANA. The following day, almost a year after its founding, the establishment of MANA was announced. The event took place at the Philadelphia Masjid, which was at the time headed by Shamsud-din Ali (a.k.a. Clarence Fowler), who is rumored to be a friend of Gamble. Ali, an ex-leader of the notorious Black Mafia, had previously been incarcerated for murder and is presently serving out an 87 month jail sentence for charges that include racketeering.
Today, Gamble sits on MANA's Majlis Ash Shura, the ruling body which sets the policy and agenda for the group. Others sitting on the Majlis with him include:
Gamble's interaction with MANA goes far beyond the organization and well into his community. Within the "ACTIVISM" section of MANA's website, MANA discusses Universal Companies (UC), its recovery plan for a part of Philadelphia that has been ravaged by drugs and violence. The effort, which is being led by Gamble, consists of children's schools, a social services department, an entertainment foundation, and real estate holdings, which include low-income residential properties.
According to MANA, Universal Companies is "one of the best-kept secrets in Muslim America." While this may or may not be so, the fact that UC is a Muslim institution is no secret at all, and this has some concerned that the effort is being done for the sole purpose of creating an all Muslim enclave within the heart of Philadelphia.
Gamble, providing a reason for this unease, stated the following to Saudi television: "One of the intentions that we had from the beginning was to create a model, so that, in the coming years, Muslims would be able to live close to each other, that they would live closer to the masjid (mosque), that they would eventually be able to open up businesses so that they would be able to employ each other and develop community life."
The UC "masjid" that Gamble is referring to is the United Muslim Masjid, whose website's homepage currently features pictures from MANA's November conference. The address of UMM is 810 South 15th Street, which places it on the same block as Universal Companies, located at 800 South 15th Street, and Salaam Enterprises, a social services organization run by Gamble's wife, Faatimah, at 814 South 15th Street.
Of interest is another group, the United Muslim Movement (UMM), found at the same address as UC. According to UC's website, it (UC) has been in operation since 1993, yet it was incorporated only in June of 2002. On the other hand, UMM was incorporated in June of 1994. In addition, the website for UC began in May of 2001, while UMM's site was shut down just after, in July of 2001.
As well, the missions of the two groups are nearly identical. As stated by Gamble, along with having Muslims "living closer to the masjid," "Universal Companies goal and objective is to be involved in the political, the social, the economic, educational activities that go on that make up all those systems that make up a community." According to the former website of UMM, "Our goal is to build both a central Masjid in the City of Philadelphia and a strong organization responding to social, economical, political, educational, and religious needs facing our communities."
Question: When Universal Companies states that it started in 1993, does it really mean that the United Muslim Movement started then? And if the answer is yes, does that then mean that the two groups are really one and the same? This leads to concern number two, that not only is Universal Companies in existence to form an all Muslim Philly enclave, but that it is being done with the blessings and money of the city and the state of Pennsylvania.
On the ex-UMM site, one could read that it was part of the group's mission to "establish the religion of Islam with the clear representation of the Quran and the Sunnah..." If the group wished to receive funds from the government, surely it would not be able to do so with this type of rhetoric, not to mention the religious significance of the group's name. As well, the UMM site listed its member organizations as including ICNA, ISNA and the American Muslim Council (AMC), three groups tied to terror. Therefore, a name change was in order, and what could be more innocuous sounding than "Universal Companies"?
There are two further corporations that share the address of UC and UMM. They are Universal Community Homes (UCH) and the Universal Institute Charter School (UICS). Both of these entities play a large role within Universal Companies; the President of the Board of Trustees of the school is UC's President and CEO, Abdur-Raheem Islam. As well, both UCH and UICS are financed via the taxpayers of Pennsylvania.
About the role the city and state play, with respect to UC, Gamble stated: "The city of Philadelphia has been an intrical part of what we've been doing, and they have participated in economic growth, as far as our real estate ventures. We've gotten tremendous recognition from them as much as they can do and I think you couldn't do a project like this without having a public/private partnership. You need not only the city of Philadelphia, but we also have a great relationship with the state of Pennsylvania. And that is the way business is done here in America..."
In fact, the participation and recognition from the city and state towards Gamble's organization has been worth millions of dollars. In April of 2003, the city of Philadelphia issued a press release announcing a $100 million revitalization plan, whereby Universal Companies would build or renovate nearly 400 homes in South Philadelphia, through the local government's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI).
Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street is quoted in the release as saying, "NTI has provided us with a unique opportunity to rethink our neighborhoods and develop well thought out solutions to 50 years of decay and neglect; it was intended to be a catalyst, to help foster change, to spur development, to forge much needed partnerships with great organizations such as Universal Companies. Kenny and I have been talking about this Philadelphia renaissance for more than two decades."
In February of 2003, a report came out discussing how Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell was providing $250,000 towards Gamble's plan to move New York City's R & B Foundation to Philadelphia, to become part of Universal Companies' "Entertainment and Economic Development Strategy." Gamble now sits on the board of the foundation.
One can say that Mayor Street and Governor Rendell have been kind to Gamble because of what they believe he offers to his community. However, one cannot overlook the kindness that Gamble has provided both of them. According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, between June of 2001 and April of 2006, Kenneth Gamble has contributed $44,000 and $27,000, respectively, to Street's and Rendell's campaigns for Mayor and Governor.
In June of 1975, Gamble and 18 others were indicted in a payola scandal, in which the Justice Department accused Gamble's record label of offering bribes in return for airplay. In the end, he was fined $2500. Today, while he is still tied to the music business he will be inducted into the 2008 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Gamble has sought out new avenues to deal in. Unlike before, though, his present ventures are tied to a radical form of religion, one that puts a Muslim Brotherhood organization, MANA; a black supremacist group, NOI; and his own Islamic organization, the United Muslim Movement (Universal Companies), on center stage.
Why would the local and state government get so involved in something that could prove potentially dangerous for its citizens? Is it blind ambition or is it money for money? Has Kenny Gamble learned from the past or is this 1975 all over again? Regardless of the answers, if things continue as they are going, very soon the city of Philadelphia will be experiencing its first taste of Sharia law a sad note indeed for America's birthplace.
Beila Rabinowitz, the Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.
MIM: Kenny Gamble is receiving funding from the Neighborhood Transformation Inititiative
Initiative Announced to Revitalize Historic Philadelphia Neighborhood
In Real Estate News
Partnership backs urban redevelopment
RISMEDIA, April 29-In a vacant lot on South Broad Street, Mayor John F. Street recently joined state and local officials, Universal Companies Founder and Chairman Kenneth Gamble, Fannie Mae Vice Chair Jamie S. Gorelick, and several key lender partners to launch a significant urban redevelopment initiative in South Philadelphia designed to complement the city's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI).
NTI is a bold and historic five-year action plan to preserve and rebuild Philadelphia neighborhoods through blight elimination, improved city services, and residential and commercial redevelopment.
Universal Companies plans to build or renovate nearly 400 homes in South Philadelphia over the next three to four years. The revitalization of this community is part of an ambitious plan by the city of Philadelphia to restore the vibrancy of the 5th largest U.S. city by attracting workers and families back to downtown, as well as retaining existing residents and many of the young people who attend the city's colleges and universities.
Universal Companies, founded by music producer Kenneth Gamble, is leading the nearly $100 million effort. Since 1993, Universal Companies has helped strengthen the South Philadelphia neighborhood, where Gamble was raised, by providing educational resources, economic development, and affordable housing for the community.
"This is a great day for the city and South Philadelphia. This initiative represents several milestones and a new beginning in turning our community around," said Gamble. "Homeownership and affordable housing are fundamental for thriving neighborhoods and this partnership with the city, Fannie Mae, The Reinvestment Fund, and Citizens Bank will not only help restore blighted neighborhoods in South Philadelphia, but serve as a model for revitalization for communities throughout Philadelphia and across the nation."
Philadelphia, PA, April 18, 2001 In a bold and historic move to challenge the status quo and reclaim neighborhoods from urban decay, Mayor John F. Street, today announced the most ambitious and important program in his tenure as mayor. The program, entitled the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative (NTI), and budgeted at $1.6 billion over the first five years, is designed to implement policies and programs that will preserve and restore all Philadelphia's neighborhoods by eradicating the city's significant inventory of vacant, deteriorating buildings and trash-strewn lots. The initiative also includes a comprehensive, strategic redevelopment plan for Philadelphia, which, among other things, is expected to reverse a 50-year-long pattern of population decline the City has experienced.
"I will not let it be said that on my watch the battle for neighborhood preservation in Philadelphia was lost," said Mayor Street. "The choice for us as a city is very clear. If we continue to do things the way that we always have, we will have the same results we've always gotten. In my opinion, we have little choice other than to adopt this bold and innovative new approach. Our city clearly needs this initiative and the time to act is now!"
The City of Philadelphia, which claims some of the country's most attractive and highly regarded middle-class and upscale neighborhoods also reported the nation's highest per-capita vacancy rate for the year ended December 2000. Since 1950, the City's population has declined from just over 2 million to 1.5 million persons, and through the decade of the 90's, the City lost 4.6% of its population. Mayor Street anticipates that a successful neighborhood transformation program will assist in reversing those trends and Philadelphia's population will grow by 5%, or 75,000 persons, over the full 10-year life of the program.
Planning for the NTI has been under way since January 2000, but the concept was introduced by then-Candidate Street in February 1999, when he announced his mayoral campaign. Mayor Street, who was elected to his current office after serving for 19 years as a Philadelphia City Councilman, the last seven as Council President said, "My interest in helping to identify suitable housing opportunities for neighborhood residents led me to run for political office. As a member of City Council, I represented a district that combined some of our City's most upscale communities and some of our City's most economically challenged communities. I believe my 20-plus years of public service have prepared me especially well to lead this effort. "
"While some might call our NTI goals ambitious, I believe they are sufficient scope to address our residents' desire to live in stable and well-maintained neighborhoods, to send their children to good public schools and to have access to jobs and economic opportunities. NTI, as we have structured it, will allow us to address each of those issues. And, if NTI works as we have planned, and we have every confidence that it will, it should make Philadelphia a national model for comprehensive municipal development," Street added.
Over its first five years, the Initiative is expected to produce nine specific outcomes:
"Membership in this crusade is free but the service will not be easy. Active and responsible participation in this effort will require a commitment to real change in the way we all do business," Street said. "There's probably a healthy level of cynicism out in the community as far as government-assisted neighborhood development is concerned. Implementing this initiative will require that we exercise unusual political courage. If this initiative is to be successful the entire community businesses, developers, residents and government, itself is going to have to rid itself of the notion that blighted conditions are inevitable and irreversible in a major city. Once every Philadelphian adopts this new can-do' mind-set, we will ask that they get personally involved in the process. "
Essential to that process is the Mayor's personal commitment to bring sweeping changes to the way in which the City organizes its government, allocates resources, adheres to a strategy, facilitates development, leverages private capital and interacts with its "customers."
According to Mayor Street, NTI is distinguished from previous such programs in that it will include, in conjunction with its physical plans, components that seek to generate sweeping improvements in: commercial development; public education; children, youth and social services; faith based initiatives targeted at helping newly released prisoners; job creation and workforce development.
NTI's Director Patricia L. Smith stresses that the program will be fundamentally different from traditional urban development approaches. "For the most part," said Smith, "the urban renewal programs of the 70's were defined by demolition, a massive gentrification of traditional neighborhoods and by a substantial lack of meaningful involvement by neighborhood residents."
"Ironically," Smith added, "those programs contributed significantly to the creation of vacant lots and other blighted conditions here in Philadelphia and in other cities across the country. We have learned from the failure of those programs and will absolutely not repeat their mistakes."
The program will be initially funded through the issuance of $250 million of government, private activity and taxable bonds, but it will also receive blight elimination funding ($492.5 million) and housing resources ($887.4 million) from public sources, over its initial five years of operation. While the program's initial funding will be drawn from government bonds and other public funding sources, the Mayor strongly believes that the true success of the program will be recognized once the private sector becomes involved in creating new markets for Philadelphia housing and commercial development.
The first visible activity of the NTI actually took place in February of last year, when Mayor Street launched an unprecedented and highly successful effort to remove 40,000 abandoned vehicles from Philadelphia's streets, over a 40-day period. Not only was that goal achieved, the City administration has continued aggressively to tow abandoned cars from Philadelphia's neighborhoods and, to date, more than 66,000 such vehicles have been removed from the city's streets.
"NTI's first year of operation will include, among other things, the recruitment of 500 new block captains in neighborhoods across the City, the removal of 4,300 dangerous street trees, the hiring of six community planners, the launch of a short dumping initiative, the clearing of all 31,000 vacant lots in Philadelphia, the launch of a citywide anti-litter campaign and the launch of a new tree planting campaign," added Smith.
To focus the Initiative's efforts, the Street Administration has developed a strategic framework that involves the classification of every section of the City into one of six real-estate "market clusters," ranging from "Regional Choice," (highest city property values, older housing in excellent condition) to "Reclamation" (substantial population losses, ranging as high as 30%, low property values, a vacancy rate of 22%).
Philadelphia-area business leaders and nationally significant residential housing developers who have reviewed the plan, have expressed strong support and are encouraged that the NTI will play a significant role in attracting private investment. Charles Pizzi, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber Of Commerce, said "It's within everyone's interest that we form a bi-partisan effort to ensure the execution of the Mayor's vision. Because the effort is market-driven it could very well have a positive effect on all homeowners in the city."
Barry M. Edelman, president, K. Hovnanian Companies, of Red Bank, New Jersey, said: "This is an impressive program whose outcomes should be very appealing to major housing developers. Given the uniqueness of the effort and its great upside potential we believe that the private sector will be watching Philadelphia's progress with great interest."
M. Brad Ingerman, president, The Ingerman Group, an affordable housing developer, said: "I believe the improvements for Philadelphia anticipated from this new initiative will clear the way for significant developer participation."
Local community development corporation leaders say the NTI represents precisely the kind of leadership local residents have long wanted to see from municipal government. Kenneth Gamble, chairman, Universal Companies, a Philadelphia-based community development organization, said: "I think this is exactly what Philadelphia needs. Many people have talked about revitalizing Philadelphia, but I think Mayor Street has the plan to actually get it done."
Latino community leader Patricia DeCarlo, who has been active in the City's Norris Square community in North Philadelphia said, "I like the fact that the program is comprehensive and focuses on getting people involved in preserving and maintaining their neighborhoods. I firmly believe that, from the point of view of the Latino community, the reinvestment must occur according to the rate of the devastation. This program will put the resources where they are needed the most.
An effort that could eventually result in a total investment of $100 million in South Philadelphia has been launched by a partnership between the founder of Universal Cos. and Fannie Mae, the giant mortgage lender.
The project consists of the construction or renovation of nearly 400 homes on nearly 70 square blocks west of Broad Street and south of South Street in South Philadelphia. The project will occur over the next three to four years.
Kenny Gamble, a music producer who established in 1993 Universal to redevelop portions of his hometown of Philadelphia, is leading the project. The redevelopment initiative "complements" Mayor John F. Street's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, or NTI, according to those involved.
NTI was formed to help attract new and retain current residents to Philadelphia, which has suffered population losses over the last five decades.
The announcement of the project gives Street a boost in an election year when many voters and other political observers are seeking firm results from the initiative.
The Philadelphia neighborhood had once been a stable and thriving community. Just like other sections of the city, portions of South Philadelphia suffered from suburban flight and population decline following the 1960s. Roughly 10,000 units of housing, most built before 1939, dot the neighborhood. In addition, many buildings are falling apart and hundreds are vacant or abandoned.
The initiative intertwines several financial arrangements.
As with most developments, Universal will leverage investments and financing for the construction of new and renovated homes and apartments. The Reinvestment Fund, a Philadelphia-based community development financial institution that provides capital for low- and moderate-income developments, through its subsidiary The Collaborative Lending Initiative, or CLI, will provide acquisition and construction loans for the redevelopment effort. Fannie Mae, through its American Communities Fund, and Citizens Bank, are expected to purchase one-third participation interest in the loans originated by CLI for the first phase of the redevelopment. About 160 homes will be affected by this initial phase.
In addition, the city's Redevelopment Authority, which oversees NTI, will issue a $3 million loan that must be used for the acquisition of property that will be redeveloped. http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/stories/2003/04/21/daily41.html?t=printable
MIM: Kenny Gamble meets with Prince CharlesThis past weekend, TRF's Director of Special Initiatives, Patricia Smith, was among six urban revitalization enthusiasts from Philadelphia, who were given the opportunity to ride with Prince Charles on a special train to New York. Pat was formerly head of the City's Neighborhood Transformation Initiative. Others included Kenny Gamble of Universal Homes, Sister Mary Scullion of Project Home, Paul Levy of the Center City District, Kent McGuire of Temple University, and Alan Berube, a Brookings Institution fellow. Details about the trip and their conversation were featured in the Philadelphia Daily News. http://www.trfund.com/about/newsletters/Winter%202007/Reinvestment%20News%20-%20Winter%202007.html
First MANA Conference A Long Time Coming
By Zainab Cheema
From November 2 to 4, the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA) held their debut conference in Philadelphia: the State of the Black American Muslim Community.
MANA is a national coalition of organizations and community centers devoted to the social, economic, and cultural strengthening of the African American community. The conference served not only to launch MANA as a high profile coalition organization, but to bring core African American issues to the table that have long been neglected.
Many high profile imams, community leaders, and activists were spotlighted in the program. As Amir of MANA and the driving force behind the conference, Siraj Wahaj was a key figure. Other speakers included Zaid Shakir, Warith Deen Mohammad, Laila Muhammad, Jamillah Karim, Altaf Husain, Ihsan Bagby, Karimah Al-Alamin, Mauri Saalakhan, Johari Abdul-Malik, Imam Abdul Malik, Luqman Abdul Haqq, Talib Abdur Rasheed, and Joshua Salaam.
One of the key phrases of the conference is paradigm shift: it was grounded in the sense that African American Muslims must create a platform for addressing core issues that affect the communities, instead of waiting for the Arab and Indo-Pak communities that dominate the established Muslim organizations to let down their barriers. The conference opened up frank discussion about the impact that the prejudice and racism from the Arab and Indo-Pak communities have had on the African American Muslim community, and how key issues affecting the latter have persistently been neglected.
"The agenda of the immigrant Muslim community in America is preoccupied by foreign polices at the expense of the domestic agenda," noted Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, a member of MANA's Executive Committee, "MANA has been working to develop, critique, and synergize those on the ground addressing issues plaguing Muslims in America. We are addressing the long neglected urban core, which is the historical home of the Muslim community living in America."
"We call ourselves Muslims, but what does that mean in the eyes of people we interact with everyday?" asked Imam Talib Abdur Rasheed, Deputy Amir of MANA, "It means to do unto others as others would do unto you. The immigrant Muslims have been invited to a dialog for a long time. However, they have not come forward."
"In the 20th century, WEB DuBois said that the problem in America is the color line," declared Altaf Husain, former president of MSA National, "and it is a shame that in the 21st century, the problem in the Muslim American community is the color line."
Many participants and audience members responded positively to the message. "There is an energy and appreciation happening at the conference," said Bonita McGee, "I think that this conference could best serve as a model for establishing practices that other conferences could follow. I am looking forward to the solutions and action steps that will come out of the conference."
"I think this conference is excellent because it is focusing on African American issues," noted Karim Amin, Development Director at the Islamic Relief, "We are focusing on issues that have long been ignored. This is not to separate African Americans from other Muslims, but to empower African Americans to come up with a strong Muslim agenda."
The other major theme of the conference was not just remaining content with speeches, but generating action. The organizers designed the format to be more interactive, with workshops on issues such as the participation of Muslim women in organizations, revitalizing the economic health of the masjid, bridging the communication gap between adults and youth, and challenging the mushrooming of Supermax prisons for incarcerating Muslim men. Facilitators jotted down the audience members' concerns and recommendations.
The final day of the Conference was devoted to pooling the action points generated in the workshops. "The theory behind the conference is that this is a working conference," noted Joshua Salaam, the Youth Director at Virginia's ADAMS Center, "The people are expected to come here, participate, and take back action plans to their communities."
While the idea is indeed excellent, some workshops implemented it far more effectively than others. Also, the limited time, the wide range of topics to be covered, and the number of speakers also meant that the Conference was perhaps more effective in presenting a menu of ideas than opening a platform for dialogue.
Some audience members also thought that the emphasis on action could be further enhanced. "The Conference is excellent, but there needs to be a mode of follow up," commented Shakura Mateen, "I'd like them to concentrate more on the Q&A parts of the sessions. We all know what the problems are, and now we need an influx of solutions."
In general, the conference signaled a shift inwards, where key African Americans leaders are now pooling their resources, and the wealth of the African American historical experience to create change on critical issues for the African American community.
"MANA's message is to think globally but act locally, and to do so with love and compassion," noted Imam Abdur Rashid, "We are ready to transform initiatives by communities and mosques across the nation into viable projects and action plans."
Presenters and audience members spoke about the lingering scars of slavery that display in the persistent devaluation of their talents. "There are pathologies that we continue to bring over from slavery," said Abdullah bin Hamid Ali of the Zaytuna Institute, "the low confidence, the feeling that blacks can't be in government or business." The move towards confidence in problem solving is important, for some of the most powerful aspects of the African American experience are community mobilization and development. This shone through in numerous workshops in the conference.
For instance, the Masjids and Economic Development section spotlighted the achievements of community leaders such as Earl Al-Amin of the Muslim Community Cultural Center of Baltimore, and Luqman Abdul-Haqq, the CEO of Universal Companies.
Their presentations highlighted the work done to revitalize the economic health of inner city communities and to provide needed core services. Al-Amin underlined the importance of safeguarding the economic and social health of the Muslim neighborhood.
"The masjid is a filter for influencing the neighborhood's environment," he noted. The achievements of the MCCC include the purchase of numerous grave sites, key support services, and real estate development where Muslims can own properties around masjid. In turn, Universal Companies is a community revitalization engine that is targeting Southern Philadelphia, taking a holistic approach to institutional development, such as building schools, providing medical services, and creating small businesses.
In the sessions on education, MANA illuminated a focus in coming up with new solutions targeted to the community's needs.
Sr. Daaiyah Saleem, an educational expert who is currently working at Clark Atlanta University, outlined a new model for relieving children of the tedium of public school education: service based learning in Islamic schools. This form of learning involves a dynamic curriculum that organically integrates the Quran and the Sunnah in the teaching, and helps the children to put knowledge in context by volunteering with key social service projects for the community. "We need to harness their youthful energies to help solve the community's problems," commented Saleem, "and the best way to do that is to teach them standards and academic concepts through service projects."
Other issues that MANA brought center stage was building effective relationships with youth. Joshua Salaam and Jamillah Karim, Assistant Professor of Religion at Spelman College, pointed out the communication gap between adults and the youth, highlighting the need for adults to guide youth in important issues like gender relations through the critical years of 13 to 17. Imam Abdul Malik agreed. "The important thing is to give the young people critical information," he said, "this generation wants to keep it real. We don't need celebrity leaders, we need individual people empowered to think for themselves."
MANA itself is designed to be a nation wide network for masjids and community centers across the nation. At the Conference, MANA extended its promise to work with organizations or masjids with whatever issues they are struggling with.
"The vision of MANA is to network resources so that we can build our communities, and bring the fruit of Islam to the society," noted Ihsan Bagby. At the same time, MANA has outlined a definite agenda to meet the African American community's social service needs. These include providing re-entry services for young men coming back from prison, creating a support system for ensuring healthy marriages, and setting up SHARE Centers, which are social service centers that provide communities with job opportunities, marriage counseling, substance abuse programs, women's shelter, medical services, youth mentoring, and other needs.
The conference provided an opportunity for discussion on many issues that affect the African American Muslim community, as well as the Muslim American community at large. Imam Johari noted that issues like the stability of marriages and incarcerations of Muslim men affected the Arab and Indo-Pak communities as well, but stigma surrounding these issues in the communities prevented open discussion. "MANA is making an attempt to put together a draft action plan to address [this issue of] highest importance for this constituency," added Imam Johari, "the items are open to be executed by the whole Muslim community, including sectors that are important to us, living in the matrix of America."
In general, the conference marked a shift where African American issues are given center stage, and where African American problem solving approaches are valued. As many agreed, this has been a long time in coming. "This is so healing for our community," declared Amenyonah Bossman, "we are coming to appreciate ourselves as a people, and learning that we are a great nation and can do great things."
It is also to be noted that the audience was mostly African American. Mauri Saalakhan, the founder of the Peace and Justice Foundation, commented: "All parts of the country were represented, and the sheer number of Muslims who convened for the conference was excellent. I was a little disappointed, however, that the immigrant Muslim community was not better represented. I estimate that about 80 to 90 percent of the attendees were African American."
However, MANA's general approach did draw feedback that outlined the need for reflection. For instance, Br. Saalakhan, reflected: "While the conference was very successful in most respects, the only brotherly criticism I have of the organizers is . . . that justice component of the conference was seriously deficient. For a conference organized around the Black American Muslim perspective, and one in which key organizers openly invoked the memory and legacy of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (aka Malcolm X), this deficiency was a profound disappointment for me and a number of other committed African American Muslims at the conference."
MANA's first historical conference has helped to launch a new presence on the Muslim American organizational kaleidoscope. As noted by Tahra Goraya, Deputy Director of CAIR, "I believe that Muslims can't have enough organizations, and I wish MANA the best of success." www.muslimlinkpaper.com/
This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at http://www.militantislammonitor.org/article/id/3305